It was so exciting to have attended the first Yoga Research Symposium in North America at the Himalayan Institute in Pennsylvania the first weekend in October. Around 200 Yoga teachers, healthcare professionals and researchers came together to talk and learn about the front edge of research in the emerging field of Yoga therapy. Leading researchers from the US and India shared their work in both lecture and poster presentations. Particular attention was paid to those thinking about doing research. They were educated and encouraged to do go for it! Why the focus on research? To legitimize Yoga in the west as a viable treatment modality in mainstream healthcare. In fact, the President of the Himalayan Institute, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, shared during his keynote address he believed Yoga would have more of an anchored presence in our society within the next 10-15 years through the pioneering research that is being carried out today. This because Yoga research would have the effect of making Yoga more accessible to the westerner.
Other highlights of the symposium included a keynote address by Dean Ornish, MD who spoke about the effects of lifestyle in the treatment of heart disease. He was inspiring, eloquent and really drove home the power the individual to have an effect on the course of their health through conscious choices about diet, exercise, spiritual practice, and loving intimate relationships. Bessel van der Kolk, MD lectured on trauma, Yoga and the neurobiology of self-regulation, which I loved for a few reasons. I’ve enjoyed each and every one of his lectures to date, I do trauma therapy work myself, and because Dr. van der Kolk’s pioneering work to demonstrate the viability of Yoga in the treatment of psychological trauma has been both inspiring and validating for me. It has validated the efficacy of a gentle and subjective approach to Yoga in the treatment of trauma, an approach that mirrors my own for the past 15 years. And it has inspired me to keep doing what I do to help others to overcome the often debilitating effects of psychological trauma.
The symposium offered lectures from leading researchers about the use of Yoga in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, shortness of breath in the elderly, breast and ovarian cancer, to name a few. It offered poster presentations on 40 projects from around North America where Yoga was used effectively in the treatment of a health and mental health condition for both adults and youth.
Overall, it felt like a professional home being at this symposium. The vegetarian food was delicious, the conversations fascinating, and care and kindness that was put into the production of the event was palpable. I don’t think I’ve ever attended a symposium where there was so much felt kindness and warmth in the air.
Yoga really is on its way to becoming an accepted therapy in mainstream healthcare. Kudos to the International Association of Yoga Therapists who sponsored this very successful event.